Did you ever have a day or time in your life when your brain felt so full and the learning was so demanding that you just might explode?
You’re ready to yell, “I can’t learn one more thing!”
Many years ago, in the office of Armistice ( a community organization in Seattle working on peace and social justice issues), I had one of those days.
This was my post-university passion, primarily volunteer work, that had absolutely nothing to do with my botany degree and did not help to pay off my student loans.
But it was work that I cared about, made me feel alive, and had me learning more in a few months than I learned in my whole 4 years of college.
This work inspired me. I was on fire with a need to change the world. Heck, by opposing nuclear weapons we were trying to save the WHOLE world!
In the space of a few months I learned to:
- facilitate meetings
- speak in public
- lead community workshops
- coordinate volunteers
- curate and manage resources
- write press releases and coordinate publicity campaigns
- layout newsletters
- build and manage membership for a community organization
- collaborate with other nonprofit leaders for strategic planning
- coordinate fundraising campaigns and events
And this was back in the dark ages before email, laptops, and even desk-top computers. Everything was done the slow, old-fashioned. Even answering machines were new! It was engaging, challenging, exciting, and rewarding. It felt like it mattered. I loved what I was doing.
But one day, I lost it.
Ruth, a friend, mentor, and comrade, gave me a new challenge. It was way beyond my sweet spot of learning or zone of proximal development (zpd.) Something else I had never even imagined myself doing.
And I BELLOWED, throwing my hands in the air —
I CAN’T LEARN ONE MORE THING!
Shocking really, since I usually had to be encouraged to speak up. But, I had hit the wall.
Fortunately, I had friends/mentors, Ruth and Rosemary, who had my back.
The Power of Passion and Support
Ruth gave Rosemary a knowing look and they swung into action. They whisked me away to the Chinese restaurant next to the office and plied me with food and martinis. They deposited me at my apartment and told me to sleep.
While I napped, they called on their network and found me a place to have a mini-retreat. They picked me up a few hours later, packed my bag and “kidnapped” me. They dropped me off at some kind of retreat center on Hood Canal, with no phone, no electronics, nothing but shelter (a dorm of some sort with kitchen), some food and a beach. I was admonished to sleep, walk, breathe and just BE, not do.
I was left to myself for a few days. I slept, cried, walked, sat and stared at the water and breathed. And did it all again.
Ruth and Rosemary came to pick me up and stayed the night. They brought food and wine and chocolate. We had time to talk, eat and laugh together and process. They shared their tips on: how to balance the passion, intensity and commitment to social change with having a life; how to prevent getting to the “losing it” point; and the value of believing that the process is just as important as the product.
Thinking back to those days, when I truly believed our non-violent actions were critical to the world’s survival, is sort of embarrassing. But this experience taught me the power of heartfelt passion for taking the risks of new learning.
Like many of our most powerful learning experiences, none of the work in those years was in a classroom or directed or sanctioned by any authority. The work — vision, friendships, mentors, community– changed my life.
And I experienced the power of support.
We absolutely need supporters and truth-tellers in our lives who are honest, who challenge us to be more, and who hold us when we need to rest, who help us learn and live.
Especially on the days we feel we can’t learn one more thing.
The friendships endured.
When I visit with Rosemary, however briefly, time disappears, and our honest conversations inspire us both to take on new learning and challenges. Ruth is no longer sharing the earth and I especially miss her savvy political commentary and what we called “talking like God.” She had incredible ideas about what could and should be done. She gave honest, often biting critique, but also knew how to encourage.
They both helped me find my passion and my voice.
Who helps you find yours?